Written by Matt Leon, Ed Speaks editorial board member.
The other night in East Greenbush, NY, according to an article in the Times Union newspaper, a teacher sat in front of parents and showed them a video of students in a classroom playing with dice. It was a good thing: She was demonstrating how students were learning to quickly count how many there are of something by looking at the black dots on a die.
It was an example of the Common Core learning standards in action. While students across the country may be asked to meet a broad learning objective outlined in the standards such as “understand the relationship between numbers and quantity,” there is nothing in the standards that dictate how schools and teachers do it. Common Core is not a federal takeover of daily classroom instruction.
As the Commissioner of Education reboots his public forums about the new Common Core State Standards in communities across the state, it might be a good time to revisit what the standards are not.
The Common Core is not a federal program.
The Common Core State Standards were initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers out of concern that our country’s schools were not adequately preparing our students for the challenges of the future. The standards were officially announced in June 2010, but have their roots in a longer-running national conversation about making sure American’s students will be able to compete in the future.
New York is one of 45 states currently implementing the standard. There are differences and nuances between each state’s implementation. It is fair to say that federal funding, and the Race to the Top program in particular, has aided the widespread adoption of the standards. However, five states are not participating: It’s not a federal requirement.
The Common Core is not a curriculum.
Learning standards establish broad objectives for what students will have learned by a given grade level. The Common Core State Standards are an effort to bring clarity and consistency to these expectations.
The standards set forth the kinds of skills that will be needed in college and beyond – critical thinking, citing evidence from what one has read when articulating a perspective, and applying math in real-world situations are a few examples. But the standards themselves do not tell educators what materials and activities – curriculum – they should use to teach these skills.
Here’s an example of a standard, chosen at random from kindergarten: “Recognize and produce rhyming words.” I am not an educator, but I am going to guess that there a lot of ways to help students do this.
In New York, it is true that the state is developing curricula attached to the standards for school districts to use. These are presented in modules. The modules are not a requirement, although many districts are adopting them for use in the classroom and others are adapting them to be used in concert with new and existing course materials.
The Common Core is not a testing program.
Since the introduction of No Child Left Behind a decade ago, testing based on academic standards has become part of our country’s educational system. The new standards do not change this fact. Taken as a set of broad learning objectives – Common Core standards do not inherently require more tests than in the past.
However, New York is one of only two states that have tested students based on the new standards, even while they were not yet full incorporated in the state’s classrooms. In addition, the standards have been rolled out in New York simultaneously with teacher evaluations that incorporate student performance on test for the first time. This evaluation system has led to more testing in many classrooms.
So, the experience of Common Core implementation and testing has been a source of frustration and stress for New York’s teachers, students, and families. Yet it still seems fair to suggest that the standards themselves be evaluated on their merits as a set of learning objectives.
We’ll explore the intersection of the education reform movement – including evaluations, curriculum and instruction, and testing – more in a future blog post.
Dumbed down? Too tough? One-size-fits all
Some believe that the standards represent a dumbing down of education in our country. Others believe the standards are too tough. Some say they are one-size-fits-all. These are just a few of the charges, counter-charges, and critiques that are playing out in the discussion of Common Core across the country. Scout the Internet – or just do a Google search – you’ll find much more.
A writer at the Hechinger Report an independently-funded unit of Columbia University’s Teachers College, says that this is a debate worth having.
“It should come as no surprise for a major sea change in education to meet both criticism and cheers,” Liz Willen wrote. “The Common Core has already seen its share of both at the local and national levels. And parents, teachers and students will continue to need more information and reassurance about new expectations, curricula and tests.”
We agree. Common Core is weaving its way into the fabric of our schools, and that means being interconnected with classroom activities, homework, testing, and evaluations. But, the standards themselves are a something that state officials – and many district leaders, teachers, and parents – believe are necessary for our students to succeed in the future.
We’ll take more about what the Common Core standards are in part 2 of this post, appearing here tomorrow.